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Burger Friday: Lyn 65 Kitchen & Bar

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: August 15, 2014 - 3:00 PM

The burger: After logging nearly six years in the kitchen at Restaurant Alma, chef Benjamin Rients has set out on his own. After what appeared to be an endless construction process, his Lyn 65 Kitchen & Bar quietly opened last week.

At the menu’s center is something far outside Rient’s Alma orbit: a burger. Scratch that. A phenomenal burger.

“I want to set us apart from Alma,” he said. “I want this to be a neighborhood place, and a burger is important to a neighborhood place. Besides, I absolutely love cheeseburgers. We’re approaching it the way you would at a fine-dining restaurant. Why not take some craft and put that into a burger? ”

Why not, indeed. The unseen mechanics are suitably impressive. And elaborate. The patty owes its ultra-rich aura to fat-laced short ribs, cured for 48 hours in salt, peppercorns, garlic, red onion, parsley and thyme. A grind blended with chuck and sirloin – the arithmetic is roughly 50 percent short rib, 25 percent chuck and 25 percent sirloin – is hand-formed into patties and grilled on a flattop. “That way, the patty sits in its own fat and caramelizes,” said Rients. “It’s using the fat that’s already there.”

When the patty comes off the grill, it gets a brief respite in, yes, more fat. Butter, specifically. “It’s the way we were taught at Alma, to rest our proteins,” said Rients. “If you have that fat underneath, it acts as a natural barrier, and the patty might not release as much of its juices.”

It works. When I cut into the patty, its gently crusted char revealed a velvety, unabashedly pink, tantalizingly juicy center. “We’re shooting for medium to medium-rare,” said Rients. “But we’ll take it to well-done if that’s what people want. I respect that. People should be able to get what they want to get.”

The burger was inspired by a trip Rients and his wife made to Chicago a number of years ago, which included a meal at Bandera. The experience obviously made an impression.

“It was right when I started cooking, and the only thing we could afford was the burger,” he said with a laugh. “It was amazing, and really the first time I had a burger that I’d been shocked by. They borrowed elements of the classic Chicago hot dog. I’ve been thinking about that flavor profile for a long time.”

Naturally, a fine-dining level of care and feeding goes into the garnishes. The top of the lower bun gets a generous swipe of coarse mustard. That's covered with a layer of dill pickles, which serves as a protective barrier between doughy bun and juice-laden patty.

A second pickle treatment -- this time, a sweet pickle relish blended with chopped raw onions -- is spooned over the patty. Both add a much-needed acidic note to counter the beef’s powerful voluptuousness, as does the slice of an obviously well-raised tomato. Rounding out the equation is a crinkled lettuce leaf and a well-composed house-made mayonnaise. As with all classic formulas, this one works. And how.

From the get-go, Rients planned to call upon American cheese. “I love American on a cheeseburger,” he said. “It’s what belongs on a cheeseburger. It melts the best, it’s salty, and it’s perfect in a hipster-ish kind of way, you know? The ‘Ah, who cares, let’s put American on this thing.’”  

As for the bun, it’s ok. Not bad – more than serviceable, actually -- but it doesn’t measure up to the fellow  components. Rients is on it, already toying with switching it out for a pretzel bun. “We’re going to be constantly changing things,” he said.

From a profit-and-loss standpoint, Is a cheeseburger worth all of this effort? “I’m going to say ‘Yes,’” said Rients. “At least until I can’t stand it any longer.”

Price: $13.

Fries: Included. Although they’re well-seasoned and obviously fresh, their pale color and forgettable texture makes them a bit of a shoulder shrug.  

Beyond burgers: The fried chicken is a Lyn 65 must-order, a revelation in the opposites-attract formula that is delicately crisp and outrageously juicy. Rooted in a David Chang recipe, the painstakingly labor-intensive process would quickly knock KFC out of business, but then again the Colonel’s fried chicken never tasted like this.

Like the burger, Rients enlists his four-star kitchen know-how to elevate the familiar. The birds are cured for two days, then soaked in buttermilk. Borrowing a technique behind superior-quality French fries, the chicken is cooked twice. First comes a low-temperature poach in duck fat (“We’re huge fans of duck fat over here,” said Rients), followed by a dredge in a (gluten-free!) rice flour- rice panko mixture. Then it’s taken to maximum crispiness in rice bran oil, a chef favorite for all kinds of reasons: a high smoke point, an ability to keep fried food from feeling greasy and a gift for maintaining a neutral flavor profile. 

At the fryer, Rients and his crew take what is clearly destined to become a signature dish to a deep, mouth-watering mahogany, and the meat radiates succulent chicken-ey goodness. The portion – very nearly a whole chicken – could easily feed two, and that’s before considering the highly complementary side dishes, including a crunchy, sneakily spicy coleslaw and wickedly creamy grits. The whole shebang is a steal at $20.

Snap out of it: There’s a reason why Rients’ cramped workspace is presided over by a poster-size image of Nicolas Cage, taken from one of Rients’ favorite movies, “Moonstruck.” “It reminds me of this place,” he said, describing the scene where a sweat-soaked Cage is stoking a wood-burning oven in a stifling basement bakery. “We’ve got this 1,000-degree oven going at all times, it’s hot and sweaty here. [The poster] is our good luck charm.”

Address book: 6439 Lyndale Av. S., Richfield, 612-353-5501. Dinner served 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Bar open to midnight Monday through Thursday, to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and to 11 p.m. Sunday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

Burger Friday: Tongue in Cheek

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: August 1, 2014 - 1:56 PM

The burger: When chef/co-owner Leonard Anderson opened Tongue in Cheek in late June, the plan was to always include a burger on the menu. “We want to accommodate more than one demographic, he said. "If there are two people at a table of six who aren’t that adventurous, they can get a fried-egg sandwich, or a salad, or a burger. We’re selling a lot more burgers than I ever thought we would.”

I’m not surprised, as it is one fantastic burger. Turns out that the formula is a kind-of happy medium between two burgers from Anderson’s recent professional past: the fully loaded iteration he created for the former Hanger Room, and the minimalist version from his days at W.A. Frost & Co.

At its center is a lean and flavorful grass-fed beef that Anderson fortifies with shallots, garlic, herbs (dill, rosemary, thyme, parsley and chives) and a bit of ketchup. The meatloaf-inspired mix is formed into a thick patty and grilled to a robust char. On the outside, anyway; the kitchen took my medium-rare request exactly where it needed to go, leaving appropriately velvety pinkness and plenty of juice.

Anderson keeps the falderal to a minimum. The bun, a basic beauty baked by the good people at Franklin Street Bakery, gets its blackened stripes from a quick burnish on the grill. In the cheese department, Anderson uses a mild, three-month-old Cheddar (from Castle Rock Organic Farms in Osseo, Wis.) because it boasts all the right soft, meltable qualities, which explains why he also enlists it for the kid’s menu’s mac-and-cheese.

From the garden, Anderson skips over more standard-issue lettuces in favor of arugula. “It’s my favorite green, along with watercress,” he said. “I like it because it has a little more of a bite, and the texture holds up.” House-made cucumber pickles contribute a welcome vinegar tanginess, and the finishing flourish is whatever aioli is being prepared in the kitchen that day.

“Tonight it’s a chipotle aioli,” he said. “Last night it was Sriracha. Sometimes it’s roasted garlic. I have the burger a lot. I want to change it up, so I assume that others want that, too.”

Price: $11, a top-notch value. “There are places that are charging $14, $15, $16, $17 for a cheeseburger, it’s crazy,” said Anderson. Agreed.

Fries: Included, and addictive. They’re hand-cut and fried in rice oil until they’re tantalizingly crisp and deeply golden. Anderson gives them a generous toss in herbs, sea salt and black pepper, and piles a big-old handful of them on every burger plate.

Location, location, location: Tongue in Cheek is on St. Paul’s Payne Avenue for a reason. Anderson and his co-owners – wife Ashleigh Newman and their friend Ryan Huseby (a Happy Gnome and W.A. Frost & Co. vet) all live on the city’s east side. “The neighborhood is going through a renassiance, and we want to be a part of that," said Anderson.

Address book: 989 Payne Av., St. Paul, 651-888-6148. Open 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Brunch is served 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

Burger Friday: The Rookery

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: July 25, 2014 - 7:24 AM

The burger: At the Rookery, the small-plates/cocktails side of Travail Kitchen and Amusements, scale is everything. (Well, almost everything; taste and ingenuity and value rank right up there, too).

In a world where third-pound burgers are rapidly becoming the norm, chefs/co-owners Mike Brown, James Winberg and Bob Gerken go the other direction and embrace modesty, serving a burger that can be politely consumed in four or five dainty bites. It's slightly larger than a typical slider, but smaller (albeit much taller) than a standard-issue McDonald's burger.

"If you get this burger it's not like, 'game over,'" said Brown. "You get a giant burger at other places, and that's it, man, you're done. If you're interested in another part of the menu, forget it, that's not possible. And we used to do that. At the old Travail, with the Broadway Butter Burger, if you had that, and some duck fat fries, and a few beers, that was it, that was the whole experience."

No longer. The cramped storefront that was the original Travail is now the partnership's Pig Ate My Pizza, and the new Travail -- a few doors south of the old one -- is split in half, format-wise; go to the left and you're in tasting menu-only territory, and if you take a seat to the right, you'll select from a list of 20 or so small plate (or "micro plates," in Travail-speak) that include this boffo burger.

"At Travail, it's two hours long, and you're going to sit back and get blasted with food," said Brown. "But the Rookery side is different. You can sit down and punch holes in that menu, and an hour later, you can leave."

The burger is equipped with a bare minimum of bells and whistles. Well, for Travail, anyway, where if the staff doesn't have more-is-more tattooed somewhere on their forearms, they should. The intensely flavorful patty is a luxurious blend of brisket and scraps of aged rib-eye, a rich blend that's seasoned with fresh thyme and salt and pepper, plus onions and garlic that have been sweated on the stove. The mix is loosely formed by hand until it just holds the shape of a roulade, then it's sliced into thick-ish patties. A hot flattop grill takes the exteriors to a lightly caramelized char but keep the interior a velvety medium-rare. It's wonderfully juicy and deeply aromatic, the kind of beef bonanza that taunts your nostils long before it ever approaches your taste buds.

The house-baked bun, tender from plenty of milk yet capable of holding up to that juicy patty, gets the buttered-and-toasted treatment, then both top and bottom are swiped with a Dijon mustard emulsion. Instead of lettuce there's nicely bitter mustard greens, then a few thin-sliced slabs of house-cured bacon, chased by a layer of seductively melty Gruyere. The finishing touch is a palate-cleansing cornichon pickle.

 Turns out, Brown is right. I knocked mine back in four bites ("I can take it down in one or two," he said with a laugh), my admiration for the kitchen's burger-making prowess increasing with each progressive chomp.

My initial temptation was to immediately order a second one. But then I remembered the over-the-top scrambled egg, served in its lovely terra cotta-colored shell ($4, pictured, above), and the beyond-tender octopus ($5, surrounded by a pool of yellow bell pepper broth) and a half-dozen other goodies that I wanted to revisit, and I was grateful that my post-burger appetite allowed me to do just that.

Price: $5. Order two and you'll hit, portions-wise, what you'd probably encounter elsewhere, although finding a burger this good for $10 won't be easy. As for the rest of the Rookery menu, it currently features 25 savories, all in the $3-to-$8 range, along with a half-dozen sweets that land in between $1 and $3. The Rookery also offers its own tasting menu, a greatest-hits compilation that runs $40. I highly recommend it.

Fries: Not included. And not available. Well, not really. Right now the kitchen is doing what it does best, namely a dolled-up version of fries, by puffing up finger-shaped potatoes, souffle-style, until they're golden brown, then serving them with creme fraiche and caviar. "It's sick, dude," said Brown with a laugh. "I'm telling you, it's such a cool little dish." The caviar is served in an amusing sleight-of-hand manner: the kitchen empties 1-ounce caviar jars, refilling them almost to the top with creme fraiche that has been dyed (with squid ink) to match the caviar's black color. That's topped off with a single trompe l'oeil-like layer of fish eggs. The result? It looks as if guests are getting an entire ounce of caviar for $6 (although I imagine that the disappointment that they're not is alleviated by the masterful caviar-creme fraiche combination). "It's the most perfect little snack, ever, just awesome bar food," said Brown. Yeah, that just soared to the top of my to-taste list.

Floor show: The hard-working Travail-Rookery crew is back on the job after taking a much-deserved mid-summer vacation, and here's hoping that one of my favorite evening rituals has survived the hiatus. At some point during service, Brown steps away from the kitchen to don a chicken suit while chef Nelson Cabrera slips into a kind of robot-meets-Tin Man getup. Cabrera steps up onto a cart, and as Brown pushes him around the dining room and bar -- while simultaneously (and inexplicably) fake-types on a desktop computer keyboard -- they pantomime god-knows-what while tossing popcorn at one another.

I know. I'm what-the-heck-ing as I type that. But trust me: It's peculiar, and utterly, wonderfully Travail.

Address book: 4124 W. Broadway Av., Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131. Open 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday. through Saturday.

Talk to me: Do yo have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

Burger Friday: Lake & Irving

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: June 20, 2014 - 9:34 AM

The burger: After taking a brief, spring-is-finally-here hiatus, Burger Friday is back, and taking your calls.

Variations on “What’s your favorite burger?” have been peppering my inbox for several weeks, and despite my reputation as The Thing That Won’t Shut Up, I’m challenged to come up with a response for that one. Only because limiting my answer to a single example is darned near impossible.

So I’ll cheat it and offer, in no particular order, five burger-makers that immediately come to mind: Rabbit Hole, Borough, HauteDish, Victory 44 and the crazy-good (and crazy-inexpensive) sliders served at the Rookery.

Wait, let me add another to the list: Lake & Irving.

One reason why is that, at their new-ish Uptown restaurant, brothers Chris and Andrew Ikeda took no chances on their path to burger nirvana.

“The burger is what so many people screw up,” said Andrew. “We want to make it as perfect as possible, every time.”

And they do. At least the more-than-a-handful of times that I’ve devoured it. That admirable consistency is a result of an exhaustive research-and-development process, one that led the Ikedas to their alert-the-Patent-Office formula.

It starts with a steakhouse-style short rib-chuck blend, imported from New Jersey’s Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors and a grind so flavorful that it barely needs salt and pepper. Although the end result very nearly comes off as a single patty, each burger doubles up a pair of three-ounce-ers. Picture it this way: rather than a clearly delineated double patty, a la the Big Mac, imagine a thick-ish single patty, albeit one with a slightly off-kilter shape.

Here’s the fascinating part: Each patty is cooked on a 500-degree flattop grill for a precise (as in, down to the second) amount of time, a figure determined by a ton of trial and error. Forgive me for not being able to clear the opening credits of 60 Minutes from my train of thought. 

While immersed in their R&D period, the brothers stumbled into an ah-ha moment: During that quick cooking period, each patty benefits from a hard press with a spatula, a la Smashburger.

“It’s counter-intuitive, I know,” said Andrew. “At the CIA [Culinary Institute of America], we were taught that if you ever take the back of a spatula to a patty, the patty will lose moisture. But on a hard flattop, it doesn’t. It’s the fattiness in the short rib, which locks all that flavor and moisture into the patty.”

Another integral element is a Wisconsin cheddar, and no, it’s not an artisanal, meticulously aged product. And that’s OK.

"We're purists," said Andrew with a laugh. "A foie burger is one of the most sublime things I've ever had. But we're about doing the basic things really well. We don't want to over-complicate and detract from what makes a good burger a good burger."

Well said. It helps that this very basic cheddar has all the flavor and melty texture that anyone requires in a hamburger-bound cheese (true to form, that long-lasting melt is achieved through a careful baste that’s also measured in seconds). The sense of restraint continues with the burger's other garnishes, a few marvelously made pickle chips, a modest sliver of red onions and a lettuce leaf, all served on the side.

The two-patty formula is genius, in part because the thin shape requires next to no cooking time before each center reaches a picture-perfect pink. These burgers very nearly fly out of the kitchen, making L&I a smart lunch destination for the time-pressed.

(Another benefit of the two-patty system: Flavor. A pair of patties has twice the amount of surface that has been seared on the grill, and when that beef comes in contact with that heat, transformative deliciousness ensues. Now multiply that, times two.)

There’s a nostalgia-dipped backstory, too. The brothers (that's Chris, left, and Andrew, right, from a Star Tribune file photo) wanted to pay homage to the burgers that fueled them from grade school through college.

“We’re trying to get back to our roots,” said Andrew. “We grew up on Lions Tap – that’s what I ate after soccer games when I was 14 -- and other old-school burgers, with their smaller, thinner patties. But we also looked around, and we see a lot of these big, thick, medium-rare patties, and we don’t see anyone else doing two patties. So we thought we’d try it out.”

I nearly forgot about the crowning touch, a brioche bun from Patisserie 46, a golden, flaky, buttery thing of beauty that has quickly become the bun by which all others are measured. At L&I, it’s lovingly split and grilled in butter, caramelizing until it reaches the color of dark butterscotch. 

“A lot of the credit goes to Patisserie 46, because that bun is dynamite,” said Andrew. Agreed.

Not convinced? Consider the numbers. The L&I cheeseburger (it’s served on every menu: lunch, dinner, late-night and brunch) is outsold only by the kitchen's category-killing fried chicken sandwich. The latter has developed a (well-deserved) cult following. In my opinion, the burger merits similar standing.

Price: $11. For a criss-cross of expertly fried bacon (highly recommended), add $2.

Fries: Included, and on par, quality-wise, with the burger.

At the bar: The Ikedas are clearly beer aficionados, and their eclectic, always-on-the-lookout list is bound to have a few choices that pair beautifully with burgers. Andrew is partial to Expat, the rye saison from Fulton Brewery, “although you can’t go wrong with Bell’s Two Hearted, that’s always money,” he said. “Or if you’re really going heavy, have the North Coast Old Rasputin Nitro, that’s going to stand up to the burger really well.” See what I mean?

Address book: 1513 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-354-2453. Open 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. weekends. Reservations accepted for parties of six or more.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

Burger Friday: Chef Shack Ranch

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: May 26, 2014 - 7:17 AM

The burger: Can we all take a moment and pay our respects to the demise of the phenomenal brioche hamburger bun -- a.k.a. the "milk-bread bun" -- from the Salty Tart? Michelle Gayer, the bakery’s James Beard-nominated owner, is getting out of the wholesale bun business, which may be the single most depressing news on the local dining front since chef Peter Ireland turned out the lights at the Lynn on Bryant.

It’s tough enough getting out of bed in the morning knowing that we live in a world without the Lynn on Bryant’s magnificent apple cider doughnuts; that those insanely buttery brioche buns will no longer be gracing burgers at select Twin Cities restaurants is almost too much for my psyche to absorb.

“It’s devastating,” said Chef Shack co-owner Lisa Carlson. She speaks from experience. Between her various food truck and restaurant operations, Chef Shack customers can consume 300 Salty Tart buns over the span of a week.

I was enjoying the bison burger at Carlson’s Chef Shack Ranch on Thursday night, and thanking my lucky stars that Carlson and co-Shack-er Carrie Summer now have a Minneapolis bricks-and-mortar setup to complement their mobile fleet. Gazing at that gleaming, absurdly golden bun was both joyous and heartbreaking. The former because, well, just look at it. And the latter because I knew that it was probably my last. Cue “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Carlson said that when she heard that Gayer was pulling the brioche plug, she ordered as many as she could get her hands on. “And I’m down to the last of them,” she said. Job one on her to-do list: Find a replacement, as if one exists. “I’m open to suggestions,” she said with a laugh.

At least I my last shot at the soft, rich-tasting, egg-washed goodness of the Salty Tart milk-bread bun came as a part of a tops-in-its-class burger.  

Carlson subs out bison – naturally lean and surprisingly juicy -- for beef, forming thick, knobbly-edged patties. The meat, super-seasoned, is taken to a just-right, flavorful char. What also makes this burger stand out is Carlson's gifted way with garnishes. For starters, there’s a cautiously fried egg, its near-creamy white a vivid contrast to an oozy yolk so vividly caution-sign yellow that it’s obvious it came from a lovingly-tended chicken.  

McDonald’s should recruit Carlson for a stint at the company’s Hamburger U, because she could teach the world’s largest burger operation a thing or two about refining ketchup, pickles and the kind of Thousand Island-inspired sauce that the Golden Arches has been using on its Big Macs for forever. Oh, and she could conduct a master class on the importance of crisp, ultra-fresh lettuce, as well as a tutorial on rooting out off-season tomatoes that still manage to form a semblance of their in-season counterparts.

Yes, the payoff is in the details, and this is one expertly detailed burger. Next up: Convincing Carlson and Summer to open their doors more than three nights a week. This is a burger that needs -- correction, demands -- a wider audience.

Price: $15, and worth it.

Fries: Included, and outstanding, another example of the goodness that happens when a skilled chef embraces a humble, all-American icon.  

Hope for the future: If you’re thinking that you’ll run to the Midtown Global Market and pick up a six-pack of Salty Tart milk-bread buns for your Memorial Day weekend burgers-on-the-grill-fest, lose that thought. Both wholesale and retail milk-bread bun sales are history.

“They’re gone for good,” said Gayer. “That is, until Michelle starts up her own burger concept. There’s a plan for the milk-bread bun, and it’s all mine.”

Their demise is primarily an operations issue. “We’re just not set up to be a production bakery,” said Gayer. But there's another factor at play.

“I don’t love making them,” she said. "And I’m not interested in doing anything I don’t love, not anymore.”

Breads will remain in the bakery’s rotation. “We’ll still have the baguette, the beer bread, all those breads that we do for the farmers market, and we’ll be making breads for our sandwiches,” Gayer said.

Meanwhile, goodbye milk-bread buns, and a big-old hello to fruit pies. At least at the Salty Tart’s new stand at the Tuesday and Saturday iterations of the Midtown Farmers Market. “I’m trying to build a pie culture,”  said Gayer. “Yeah, pie culture. Doesn’t that sound great?”

It sure does, especially when it also involves the word rhubarb, which is the theme of this Saturday’s market. Rhubarb is also the featured attraction at the bakery’s Saturday morning stand at the Mill City Farmers Market, in the form of galettes. Don’t miss them.

Back at the Ranch: Don’t feel like a burger? Consider Carlson’s “Big Boy Ranch Plate,” a comes-in-two-sizes platter ($15 for gigantic and $25 for a Fred Flintstone-like portion) weighed down by sublime pulled pork, slabs of smoky, fall-apart beef brisket, a zinger of a sausage and a parade of sides, including knobbly-on-the-oustide, beyond-tender-on-the-inside biscuits, and practically-perfect-in-every-way baked beans.

Address book: 3025 E. Franklin Av., Minneapolis, 612-354-2575. Open 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

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